Sunrise Before the Storm

Sunrise Before the Storm

The outlook for sunrise photos at Goose Lake Prairie was not good, as we walked up to the cabin. A storm quickly was moving in, but certainly there would be enough time to capture a few images before the rain. As we approached, the rising sun peered through a small break in the clouds - the only break in the sky.

A few minutes later, as we walked back to the car, the rain began.

Concrete Igloos

Loop 63 Bunker

Sometimes referred to as concrete igloos, the remaining bunkers of the old Joliet Arsenal dot the landscape. With walls over 12 inches of solid concrete, these bunkers were used to store explosives produced at the arsenal. Approximately 400 feet apart, they were accessible by a network of railroad tracks within the base.

The tracks have since been removed, but miles of trails wind through the prairie, giving hikers and riders on horseback access to this unique park.

The Elwood Ordnance Plant and Kankakee Ordnance Works opened in the early stages of World War II, even before the U.S. joined the battle. The two plants combined in 1945 to create the Joliet Arsenal. During WWII, and up until the late 1970s, the plant produced artillery shells, mines, bombs and other munitions. At it's peak, the plant employed over 10,000 workers, and produced over 900 million shells and bombs, along with 450 million metric tons of TNT. These items and their components were safely stored inside the concrete bunkers.

Inside the Bunker

In 1942, a powerful explosion rocked the Elwood plant, killing dozens of workers. The blast was felt as far away as Waukegan, IL over 60 miles away.

Today, 19,000 acres of the arsenal have been reclaimed to form the Midewin National Tallgrass Praire. Other lands were used for industrial parks and the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.

False Reflection

No Reflection

What first appears to be a reflection of a rock canyon wall, isn't. It's a natural rock formation along the Kankakee River, and the river surface is about eight feet below the indented portion of the wall.

It was a fun walk along the rock wall to get to this point.

Storm on the Horizon

Storm on the Horizon

The early light a few moments after sunrise revealed a storm on the horizon. A fast moving cloud mass approached Goose Lake Prairie and the oldest structure in the county. This log cabin has endured thousands of similar storms in its long life on the prairie.

Ant on Dutchman's Breeches

Ant on Dutchman's Breeches

An ant browses some Dutchman's Breeches following a morning rain storm in Kankakee River State Park.

The unusual warmth this spring has resulted in many wildflowers blooming up to six weeks earlier than usual.

Warming Up

Warming Up

The cold waters of Lake Michigan are no place to spend a warm spring day. This turtle has the right idea- bask in the 70 degree temperatures.

In all the years of visiting Lake Michigan, I have not seen a turtle along the shore- until last Sunday. This turtle's shell was at least 12 inches across. I've seen hundreds of turtles in the streams and ponds of the dunes - even saw one in the acidic waters of Pinhook Bog - but this was a treat. Maybe he was washed out of nearby Kintzele Ditch, maybe he lives in the deeper water off shore.

Either way, I hope to see many more in the months to come.

Flowering Crabapple Bud

Flowering Crabapple Bud

It's odd to see leaves on this tree prior to the blossoms, but the buds on this flowering crabapple tree are not far from opening. In a few days, the tree will be filled with the red-pink blossoms, and the air filled with the sweet scent of these fragrant flowers.


Shadebush Blossom
Warm weather over the last few weeks, including a week of temperatures over 80 degrees, has caused most flowering shrubs and trees to blossom almost six weeks ahead of normal.

This Shadebush is in full bloom. A lover of sandy soil, this shrub is found on the slopes of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Aside from the coastal dunes, it's not common to find it elsewhere in the region.

On the Edge

On the Edge

Water droplets the size of pinheads cling to the tiny fibers of a Ladies Mantel leaf. Reversing a 50mm lens gave a much closer macro than stacking close-up lenses.

This Evening's Sky

This Evening's Sky

Following a week of record setting 80 degree temperatures, a cold front passed through this afternoon. Interesting cloud formations twisted and swirled overhead. Not much precipitation though.

Hey, Wait Up

Hey, Wait Up

Record warm temperatures drew us out to the beach once again. We even walked in the water - in March!

Dan stands in tannin-rich Kintzele Ditch, as it empties into Lake Michigan. The stream water was a bit warmer than the lake this weekend. In the past, this area was still ice covered at this time of year.

Encroaching Sands

Encroaching Sands

These trees are actually growing shorter each year! The sands of Mt. Baldy are slowly moving away from Lake Michigan, and burying the adjacent woods. At a rate of four to five feet a year, the shifting sands will soon completely bury the Oak trees.

Mt. Baldy, a 123 foot tall sand dune is Indiana's largest "living" dune. A living dune moves as the winds blow the sands from one side to another. Here, it's easily seen how the forest is being consumed by the dune. The blowing winds on the windward side often expose logs that have been buried for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years.

A Walk Through the Valley

A Walk Through the Valley

Kintzele Ditch makes it's way to Lake Michigan by meandering through a series of constantly evolving sand dunes. Long hikes along the bank are difficult if not impossible, due to the changing water levels and loose sand. Not wanting to damage any of the dune or plant life, we have never been able to hike more than 200 meters upstream. Maybe this year....

Rusted Verticals


An old iron gate leading to absolutely nowhere. Only a few feet away from the bank of the Little Calumet River, this gate must have guarded the entrance to some significant property.

In the background and a bit to the right of this image is the Bailey Homestead, the property of the earliest settlers in the area. Between this gate and that home, however, is a paved road. This may have been the gate to that property, and over the years, this new road was constructed on the former Bailey property.

Perhaps there was an estate where I was standing to take this image. Nothing but trees can be seen beyond these gates now- and no evidence of a driveway.

Kintzele Ditch Empties into Lake Michigan

Kintzele Ditch Empties into Lake Michigan

A small stream flowing between two sand dunes, Kintzele Ditch is a favorite destination for our weekly hikes along the lakeshore. The stream is the unofficial border between Mt. Baldy and Central Beach, and close to the LaPorte/ Porter county line.

The water is rich with mud and tannin, leaving a trail of brown color in Lake Michigan. The mouth of the stream varies from day to day as the wind and waves alter the beach. The mouth could be hundreds of feet to the west one week, and dead ahead the next.

Collecting the Sap

Drilling to set the Spile

Visitors to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's Maple Sugar Days can experience the entire process of Maple syrup production.

Here, Mike uses a hand brace to drill a hole into a demonstration tree. Later, he'll pound a metal spile into the hole. The spile not only acts as a spout for the sap, but also as a hanger for the collection bucket.

The bucket is then covered with a piece of sheet metal to keep out debris, animals, and most importantly, rain. The sap already has a high water content, and adding any more will only lengthen the time it takes to boil the sap down into syrup.

Covering the Bucket

These buckets can be seen all over the sugar bush, and can fill up in just one night.
The Sap is Running

Old School Maple Sugar Production

Three Stages - Old School

Three kettles hang above open fires, boiling maple sap collected from the trees in the sugar bush. An annual demonstration at the Chellberg Farm, a historical site at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Maple Sugar Days shows the historic methods of making maple syrup.

Checking the Water Content

In this demonstration, the large kettle holds a large quantity of raw sap. Once it boils down, it's transferred to the middle kettle where it boils down even more. The third kettle holds a nearly finished product.

To test the syrup, a twig was bent into a loop, similar to a children's bubble wand. The twig was dipped into the syrup, and when the syrup sticks and covers the opening in the loop, it's ready for bottling.
Syrup is Ready

Maple Sugar Time

Warming the Glass Jugs

It's early March, and that means the sap is running - it's maple sugar time at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Each year, the Maple trees in the sugar bush of the Chellberg Farm are tapped for their sap. The sap is collected in galvanized buckets and transferred to the sugar shack for processing.

Inside the Sugar Shack

The sugar shack has a large wood fired boiler where the sap is boiled down until the water content is reduced. Around 40 gallons of sap are needed to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.

Trail to the Sugar Shack

Gallon jugs are hung above the boiler to warm them. Warming the jugs this way, slowly brings them to the temperature of the syrup. When the hot syrup is poured into the warmed jug it will not break. However, if the syrup was poured into a cold jug, it would quickly shatter.



A walk through Cowels Bog ends on Boater's Beach. This beach is not normally crowded-especially in February. Apart from a few homes a long walk down the beach, the only way to get to the beach is by boat or a two mile hike through the woods.

I found my first Striped Racerunner lizard in these sands a few summers ago.

Rolling Horizon

Rolling Horizon

Bare trees line the top of the rolling dunes just before sunset.
Cowels Bog, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore